Dee McManus is an veteran business trainer, with more than 25 years’ experience in providing bespoke advice to SMEs of all shapes and sizes.
From HR headaches to company culture catastrophes and anything in between - there’s few topics Dee’s yet to turn her wry eye to. So, if you’ve got a burning question that you need expert advice on, don’t hesitate to drop us a line or get in touch via LinkedIn or Twitter.
In this month’s column, Dee looks at tackling issues around company culture, HR and recruitment.
Hi Dee, I’m a senior manager at a company that’s struggling with high turnover. None of my colleagues seem to care and upper management are oblivious. How can I highlight, and ultimately, resolve this problem?
High attrition rates can be a massive issue and it’s often hard to see the bigger picture, because people tend to focus on the impact on their operation day-to-day. Senior management need to be involved in assessing the overall effects and decide what to do about it, because it’s likely to be costing them a fortune.
New staff won’t be paying their way for at least a few weeks - if not months - down the line. And if you’re forever having to bring new people in, this detracts from your day job, as well as the capability and morale of the wider team. You’ll have people unable to work at full productivity and stress and demotivation will be rife.
There’s an obvious impact on the bottom-line financials and HR will usually keep stats on this. Often, however, HR doesn’t have the same amount of clout as sales or operations and might not be included in a lot of decision-making processes, despite the fact that human resource is probably your business’ most expensive asset.
When it comes to tackling high attrition, running a constant recruiting cycle is akin to putting a plaster on a wound, when what you really need is a full operation. There can be a number of possible reasons for this dysfunction - perhaps the right people aren’t involved in the selection process, perhaps it’s taken as a HR function and recruits are imposed on people.
You and your senior management colleagues need to get together and highlight your frustrations with the situation. The work of enacting such a sea change in company culture won’t happen overnight, but it’s up to you to shine a light on the elephant in the room and tackle the problem head-on.
The resolution you opt for will obviously be dependent on the cause of the issue, however, two relatively easy wins would be fostering better collaboration between those who are hiring and HR, as well as giving managers the leeway to spend time on recruitment.
There’s obviously an up-front cost to be paid in terms of time and resources, but you’ve got to look at this as an investment. To revert to my medical analogy, this is akin to taking a couple of hours out of work to see a doctor and get the problem sorted, rather than battling on in constantly ill health.
And the rewards can be great. A good recruitment and retention strategy can impact on a wide range of areas. Production is going to be improved, there’s less likelihood of errors and people can be more flexible if you do get a curve ball, like machinery going down, or shifting market forces forcing you to diversify.
You’ll have more people who know what they’re doing, more opportunities and most importantly, the means to take advantage of these.
Postponed payment problems
Hi Dee, my company’s got a persistent issue with late-paying clients. How can we improve our cash flow without jeopardising our client relationships?
This has been an endemic problem for SMEs, particularly in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. Cash flow is the lifeblood of a small business and it’s inexcusable that some bigger companies exploit their leverage in this way.
Obviously, there’s a relationship at stake, but if you’re consistently being paid late - there are tactful ways to handle it.
For instance, you might want facilitate your client’s payment schedules and agree to move to 40 or 60-day payments while offsetting this by raising your prices. It’s perfectly reasonable, after all, you’re both in business and you need money coming in to do the things you need to for them.
And there may be some push-back and negotiation - they may even opt to get sharp with their payments to retain their current price. But, regardless of the outcome, you’ll know when your money’s coming in and be better-able to manage cash flow, without tarnishing the relationship.
It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s arguably better than threatening to charge interest on late payments. If there’s no room for manoeuvre, it might be time to make some tough decisions about who you’re doing business with.
The case of the over-reliant client
Hi Dee, big fan of the column! I work in a marketing agency and am having real trouble with one of our clients. My day-to-day contact has been thrust into a job they’re not equipped for, getting collaborative input out of them is a nightmare and they’ve got a domineering MD who swoops in and demands tasks be turned around at a moment’s notice.
How can I improve the working relationship without putting the account at risk?
It sounds like you’re held to ransom by a number of things - the company culture, the management style, the lack of organisation and skills at their end. And all of a sudden, you’re getting it in the neck from all sides.
Being external adds another layer of barriers. You’ve got the remoteness that makes it even harder, because when you’re prompting them - it’ll be by email or phone - you can’t just go over to someone’s desk and get them to do whatever you need. You don’t have direct jurisdiction - since they’re a client - so you’ve just got to handle them.
And if you've got that relationship where they trust you - you've got to be careful, because they'll take advantage and become very reliant upon you for the next job and the next job. And before you know it, you're actually coaching them how to do their job.
It might be the case that you’re going to have to truly project manage them through it all, because of their lack of capability - but there’s an obvious time and cost implication.
If you’re going to work successfully with them, you’ll have to put them on rails, manage expectations and clearly define responsibilities. You’ll have to work closely with them and it’s going to take more from you. Personally, I’d want that reflecting in the price of your retainer, but there’s the danger that they’re obfuscating the scope of work with their CEO, who could just seek a cheaper alternative.
When it comes to tasks that require collaboration from their end, you’ll have to be assertive - clearly set out deadlines and let them know that things can’t move forward without their input. They’re in the position of authority and if your involvement in project management is required - they need to be aware of the cost implication and understand why there’ll be a cost implication.
And if they say ‘no’ - or are limited by budget - you’ll have to definitively set out where your responsibilities begin and end. At the end of the day, you can make a success of the relationship, but only if you’ve got the resources and the time needed to carry out your tasks.
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